Monday roundup – Part I

What a simply breathtaking weekend of the best game on the planet.

Where to start?

 

First, maybe I should recap with what I’d promised to cover in my previous post.

Jack Wilshere’s loan move to Bournemouth began on the worst note possible, as on his first start, his new side were comprehensively dismantled 0-4 by Pep Guardiola’s scintillating band of marauders on Saturday.

Manchester City v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 17 (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

The ex-Arsenal no. 10 was completely overrun in midfield as he made his first start alongside Harry Arter and Andrew Surman in a centre midfield three.

The rout began when Kevin de Bruyne demonstrated yet another moment of his burgeoning brilliance, rolling the ball under a jumping Bournemouth wall at a freekick for the first goal.

The Belgian has looked incredibly sharp and flown off the blocks just over a month into the season, and his cutting edge play was none more evident than in this game.

A key moment of the game was summed up perfectly when City, with 11 men back defending at a Bournemouth corner kick, broke with devastating quickness upfield and De Bruyne picked out Raheem Sterling on the overlap with an almost nonchalant outside foot pass. The much maligned Englishman showed incredible charity to slide the ball across to Kelechi Iheaneacho who duly slid it into the back of an open net.

Under Guardiola, Sterling has been a man revived after drawing quite considerable flak for his Euro 2016 performances. The ex-Liverpool winger had the favour returned to him for the third goal when, after another incisive pass from De bruyne (who else), Iheanacho slid the ball across goal for Sterling to barely bundle the ball over the line.

The pale Belgian was picking Bournemouth apart the whole game and on another City break, a clever exchange of passes between Iheanacho and de Bruyne allowed the no. 17 to play a perfectly weighted pass to Ilkay Gundongan, who tapped in his debut goal with ease. It was telling that Bournemouth had 8 or 9 men around the box, yet such was City’s incisive passing and scintillating movement off the ball, the end result was the same, as had been for the whole afternoon.

Eddie Howe’s side were simply overrun and when a Pep Guardiola side is in this mood, it’s almost impossible to stop them. This was City’s 5th straight win out of 5 in the league, and they have scored 10 goals in their last 3 games. On the flip side, bitter rivals Man Utd lost their third game in a row at Watford, leaving Mourinho completely crestfallen and almost at a lost for words. (More of that in a later post) 🙂

This early in the season, it seems already this revitalised City team is going to take some beating. Their attack is currently the best in the league, just edging Klopp’s similarly rejuvenated Liverpool (more of that soon also). When Aguero is not scoring, there’s Iheanacho and Nolito to pick up the slack. Sterling seems to have found a new dimension to his wing play and Fernandinho is quite possibly turning out to be one of the best at his position. And with golden boy of the moment De Bruyne pulling the strings in midfield, Guardiola is certainly proving he is capable of mixing and concocting the best out of his quite considerable arsenal, something his rival across town seems incapable of managing right now.

 

de-buryne

 

Goals and short recap here.

Match report here.

A big thanks to all my readers, plus Balo’s back!

To my dear readers and followers, my sincere and heartfelt thanks and appreciation for supporting this nascent portal of passion of mine.

To my loyal readers, I do apologise for not posting regularly of late due to various travel commitments, but expect more updates and provoking and insightful musings from me in the days and weeks to come.

 

First things first, breaking news – after two years of hibernation and suffering the ignominy of being the butt of every football tabloid and fan’s jokes – Super Mario is back.

mario-balotelli-nice

From: AFP

 

There was perhaps just a tinge of deja vu and maybe even a whiff of predestined fate in the air as decked in the iconic red-and-black colors of a more illustrious team whose colors he used to adorn, the long lost soul of modern football emerged from the mist to take centre stage on another step of his as-of-yet unfulfilled career.

In just 72 eventful minutes at the Allianz Riviera, the much-maligned Mario equalled his goal tally for the past two seasons against visitors Olympique Marseille. Signed on a free transfer from Liverpool yet with a ton of figurative baggage in tow, the no. 9 repaid manager Lucien Favre’s faith in starting him with a converted penalty after just 7 minutes. In the typical Mario fashion of old, a stuttering, almost nonchalant run up and a firm connection with the right boot was all it took for the ball to be at the back of the Marseille net.

nice-v-olympic-marseille-ligue-1-football-allianz-riviera-nice-france-11-sep-2016

From: Rex

 

After the visitors had turned it round with a glorious goal from Florien Thauvin and a penalty from Bafetimbi Gomis, Super Mario brought the home team level once again with an inch-perfect header from a cross from the right. No doubt spurred by the contributions of Balotelli, Wylan Cyprien won all three points for the hosts at the death with a cracking effort from outside the box.

nices-italian-forward-mario-balotelli

AFP

 

 

I do believe a change of environment in OGC Nice could represent the proverbial shot in the arm for this much-troubled young footballer. One almost forgets this was the same Balotelli who gave Germany hell in the Euro semi-final just little over 4 years ago, and the Mario who wrested City’s first title in 44 years, breaking the red half of Manchester’s hegemony over the city.

Previously described as unmanageable by the only man who has managed to coax the best out of him so far, Roberto Mancini; Balotelli has been granted yet another fresh reprieve in his tumultuous career. Prone to bouts of queer, unprofessional and at times outright inexplicable instances of “rush of blood to the head” behaviour, one may have to delve deep into Balotelli’s past to truly understand what makes this “bad boy” behave and act the way he does.

Put “mario balotelli” and “bad” together and you will find many instances of Google agreeing with you.

mario-bloetelli-bad

 

It is hard to believe Balotelli is only 26, yet has a storied past that would put the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Eric Cantona, and even Luis Suarez to shame.

It remains to be seen if this enigma can get his act together one final time or will he allow indiscipline , immaturity and impulsiveness derail his career.

Over to you, Mario.

 

 

<Goals and more links coming up soon>

Next up: the Manchester derby, a look at the deteriorating situation at Valencia and Jack Wilshere’s loan move to Bournemouth. Stay tuned and have a smashing week ahead, folks!

Shellshocked Gunners turned over by rampant Liverpool

 

EMPICS Sport

From EMPICS Sport

 

Sometimes, there is no tangible benefit from being a red and white supporter save for frayed nerves, high blood pressure, and misplaced optimism stemming from the occasional yet ever-diminishing high.

And then there are days when you might just burst a blood vessel.

This was opening weekend of the season.

New season, same old familiar story.

After a summer of discontent in which Arsenal fans had bitten half of their fingernails in frustration waiting for non-existent new strikers (from Vardy, to Lukaku, to Higuain, to Lacazette and Mahrez and God knows who else), last season’s runner-up started the first game at the Emirates with a threadbare centre defence.

Having watched Liverpool demolish Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions Cup, one knew they would give Arsenal a severe test in their season opener. If you were a Gunners fan, the last thing you wanted to see was new Championship signing Rob Holding and the out-of-depth Calum Chambers at centreback against a rampant Sadio Mane, Coutinho, Firmino and Wijnaldum.

And yet, this happened. In all too familiar territory for Gunners fans, Wenger left it till the proverbial shit hit the fan before even deciding to bid for Shkodran Mustafi in a desperate last-ditch move. With Koscielny out from his Euro exertions and Mertesacker freakishly injured before even kicking a competitive ball, it should have been then a centreback was brought in. Yet it had to be until Gabriel, the last decent centreback, got horribly crocked in the completely ill-timed friendly less than a week before the new season, before the economics professor decided to act.

It didn’t seem particular cause for alarm when Arsenal took the lead in the first half. Theo Walcott, who is supposed to have his umpteenth ‘breakthrough’ season where he finally comes good, had had a penalty saved before he put Arsenal in front with a well-taken goal into the bottom left corner from the right side of the box. Liverpool leftback Alberto Moreno had given him a half-yard of space and was also the culprit who gave away the penalty by needlessly bringing down Walcott in the box.

Arsenal 1-0

Offside / Mark Leech

Wenger had started with the usual 4-2-3-1, with Sanchez getting the lone striker’s position in the absence of Giroud, yet it was odd that in-form Oxlade-Chamberlain, fit-again Santi Cazorla and new signing Granit Xhaka failed to start. Instead it was Coquelin and Elneny who began as the two anchormen in the midfield, with Walcott and Iwobi flanking Ramsey in the middle.

The first goal should have been Arsenal’s cue to attack down the right. Jurgen Klopp has done astutely brilliant in the transfer window this summer, signing Mane and Wijnaldum as well as centreback Ragnar Klavan. Yet Liverpool’s weak link, as has been often the case last season, was in the left-back position. Alberto Moreno is fast and a more than decent attacking fullback, but his tendency to get caught out of position is something that a more than decent forward line of Arsenal could capitalise on.

1-0 up after a good start should have been cue for Arsenal to settle down and exert their authority. Yet you sensed Liverpool’s fearsome new-look attack, playing in a bold 4-3-3 formation, would not leave this game without having a say.

And it proved so, when Holding gave away a freekick seconds before half-time. Up stepped Philippe Coutinho to whip in a stunning freekick into the very top left corner.

The momentum was all Liverpool’s, and they hit Arsenal with a blitzkrieg attack in 15 devastating second-half minutes. First Adam Lallana finished off a move from new signing Wijnaldum, then Coutinho got into the act again, appearing from nowhere to finish off a Nathaniel Clyne cross. 3-1 and the mood around the Emirates was already beginning to get mutinous. It got even worse when Sadio Mane, who had tormented Barcelona’s fullbacks in the 4-0 rout of the Spanish champions, danced round Arsenal’s makeshift defence and buried the ball in the far left corner for a barely believable fourth. It was not even the midway mark of the second half.

It was then that the substitutes for Arsenal started to earn their paycheque. First, Oxlade-Chamberlain weaved his way in from the left to bury a shot for 2-4, then a pinpoint freekick lifted into the area by second sub Cazorla saw Chambers make a half-atonement for his poor defending by heading in for 3-4.

It was not good enough. Liverpool had switched off for a fleeting glimpse, but they were not about to offer Arsenal their own mini-version of Istanbul. But then again, Arsenal fans will know this narrative very well. A narrative that has played out so many times it is as bad as a Al Funcoot play. So near and yet so far, yet another “Glorious Failure”.

Why not play like this at 1-1 or 2-1, but only when 1-4 down, and at home to boot?

Why start the season with zero first-team centrebacks and no new striker to give Giroud a kick up his underperforming a**?

Why string your fans up by having your clown of a CEO spout nonsense to antagonise long suffering fans even before the season starts?

They say you can teach an old dog new tricks, but apparently, the founder of this famous saying has never met a certain Monsieur Wenger.

Astronomical fees showcase football’s out of touch with reality

shutterstock_1531694-lo

Apparently, the words “recession” and “fiscal responsibility” do not exist in the world of football.

Sometimes, one has to wonder whether the football industry is shrouded in a bubble, protected from economic fluctuations, market disruptions and volatility. How else can one explain the ever-inflating prices of players and the obscene amount of money changing hands between clubs?

This week, news broke that Man United had broken the world transfer record fee by signing Paul Pogba for 89.7 million pounds.

Their once-‘noisy’, but now superior neighbours, proved they were not to be outdone by splashing £47.5 million pounds on Everton centreback John Stones.

That’s a lot of money for a 22-year old who hardly set the league alight last season as his faltering team stumbled to a 11th place finish, and only 10 points above relegated Newcastle.

I have yet to be impressed by Stones and for someone who did not feature for a single minute in England’s disastrous Euro 2016 venture, in no way is he worth that amount of money. It is true that Stones is a commanding presence with his height and his composure on the ball does remind one of a certain Rio Ferdinand, yet for someone who only scored one league goal in his time at Everton, much has to be done to improve his all round play if he is to stand alongside such hallowed company as Ferdinand, Thiago Silva and new teammate Vincent Kompany.

When one can pay 50 million for a 22-year old defender who has only scored one club goal in his career, what price a matchwinner and a centreback who has scored crucial goals in not one, not two, but three European finals? 70 million? 80 million? A hundred??

sergio-ramos-real-madrid-sevilla-982016_odfqlti5amhg15tb9qkwju1cw

A scorer in four finals, and crucial equalisers in half of them.

From Goal.com

 

For Pogba, the less said about the transfer fee the better. On paper, Juventus were the ones laughing all the way to the bank, having picked up the Man Utd youth team reject for 800,000 pounds back in 2012. Yet the Italian champions were themselves not immune to football’s hyperinflation frenzy as having already envisioned the money they would rake in from Pogba’s imminent sale, preemptively plomped down a mere 90 million euros for Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli. One in, one out. A done deal, easy.

This is even without mentioning the astronomical transfer fees thrown around to lure world stars to the Chinese Super League.

We await to hear more groundbreaking transfer stories in the years to come.

Perhaps one day we will hear of Neymar moving for $200 million, or Man United spending $50 million on John Smith, the 12 year old who is the next Messi, Zidane and Cristiano all rolled in one.

The sky’s the limit, but in football apparently, the sky does not even exist.

 

Can Iceland smite one more time?

It’s not often I can say this in recent times, but I’m absolutely pumped for this game.

In the past weeks, we have seen many upsets, and many teams – strong, not so strong, and absolutely dismal (read: England) fall by the wayside and go home for their summer holidays.

Iceland have ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT to get this far in the tournament, a tournament they never had any right to qualify for with a population of less than 400,000. Holding Portugal to a draw was groundbreaking by any standards (and prompting a classic case of sour grapes from the pouty CR7), qualifying for the next round and vanquishing Austria along the way was a momentous achievement that would put the Greek team of 2004 to shame. England in the round of 16 completed a miracle fairytale for the biggest outsiders in a tournament EVER.

I was enthralled by the Hungarian rhapsody and the Belgian swashbucklers, impressed by the Italian underdogs and their nerves of steel.

Wales and Belgium was an absolute joy to watch, but tonight could be the night to crown it off. Whatever the result tonight, it is certain Iceland will put up an almighty fight.

I’m ready for a cracker tonight, an absolute cracker.

 

BRING IT ON.

 

iceland-viking-chant-with-fans-after-beating-england

Back with a Bang – 3 things we learned about England v Wales

englandvwales

It’s been an insane week of rollercoaster surprises, shocks and sensationally stupid knobheads, so you’ll forgive me for not posting on this mother of all Euro tournaments until now.

Now, I’ll be honest to admit: I’m no fan of England. I think they are one of the most overrated teams in the world, bar none. Okay, bar perhaps the current Brazilian team. And Europa League-bound Man*re United of course. And I’m a traditional supporter of underdogs, so that put me firmly in the Welsh camp here. Qualifying for your first major tournament in 58 years definitely puts the team right up there in my favourites to root for.

I can’t say the three Lions deserve the win in all honesty, but they DID put in a better performance in the second 45 of this game to better the laughable 1-1 draw with Russia.

The game today was going so satisfactorily right up until 11 minutes into the second half. Roy Hodgson had finally realised the existence of EPL champion Jamie Vardy on the bench and brought both him and Daniel Sturridge on. Both men turned out to be game winners.

472365-sturrdige

From dnaindia.com.

 

Time doesn’t allow for a lengthy in-depth post so just 3 quick things we learned from this crucial Battle of Britain in Group B:

 

  1. England need Vardy to play from the start.

The classic rags-to-riches fairytale come true, everything Jamie Vardy touches has turned into gold for England so far. Runner-up only to Kane in the top scorer’s list, but with the one honour that the latter would kill for, the EPL trophy, Vardy just seems to add that extra dimension with his passion, dynamism and hunger whenever he takes to the pitch.

We saw how spectacularly both Kane and Vardy did against Germany in that 3-2 win. I don’t see any reason why both of them cannot play together. In addition, Kane has been unusually quiet in this tournament, which was touted by many to be his announcement of his arrival on the big stage. Their partnership is a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Hodgson surely didn’t bring the 49-goal duo to France to leave one of them on the bench, did he?

To sum it up, here’s Bleacherreport’s awesome stats graphic:

Vardy Bleacherreport

‘Nuff said.

 

2. England flatter to deceive where it matters.

As has been the case time and again, and reaching 50 long years this time now, England just simply do not come up with the goods when it comes to the crunch.

Once again, they were flawless in qualifying, with a perfect 10 wins out of 10. Somehow, this masks the fact that their qualifying group was extremely poor, with only Switzerland posing any sort of realistic threat whatsoever.

It was a typical case of Englanditis (look it up here – LOL) against Russia, where the Three Lions created enough chances to put a very sluggish and uninspired Russia to the sword by half-time. Adam Lallana in particular, had two, or even three good chances to finish, but failed to break the deadlock. It took until the 73th minute for the most unlikely source in the team, Eric Dier, to strike a thunderbolt into the Russian net for a lead which they could not even hold till the end.

In the first 45 of today’s game, England were bossing possession, almost camping exclusively in the Welsh half, but somehow, after Gareth Bale scored his glorious freekick completely against the run of play in the crucial moments before half-time, the shots on target read: England 1, Wales 1.

Which was quite remarkable, when you think about it. Although not too unexpected of a team like England. It took some terrific goalpoaching from the master goalpoacher this season to draw England level, and bring Wales back to earth, and another piece of opportunistic finishing by Daniel Sturridge very late into injury time which brought Hodgson’s charges the 3 points they absolutely required.

In a tournament where 16 of the 24 teams qualify from the group stage, it is almost mathematically impossible for England to be knocked out early. However, if Hodgson and his men choose to be complacent and rest on their laurels, they will be taught a lesson by dark horses Slovakia. One only needs to ask World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro and team whether Slovaks are any good in football.

 

3. Gareth Bale is the most improved player in the world. (and also the most-improved most-expensive player, lol)

Words cannot really describe how immensely impressed I have been by Gareth Bale’s transformation this season, and part of the last, for both club and country. To think that the world’s most expensive footballer had been rumored to be contemplating a move to mighty Europa-League-bound Man Utd, back when Rafael Benitez was sacked midway through the season and replaced by Zinedine Zidane.

Once criticised for being a one-trick pony (pure pace and nothing else) at Spurs, and “selfish” at Real Madrid, the Welshman has morphed into one of the most fearsome attacking forwards over the past two years. Besides still retaining most of his electric pace, Bale has added muscular atleticism, physicality and an increasingly deadly threat in the air.  The 85 million pound man singlehandedly dragged Wales through qualifying for their first major tournament in 58 years, with a 7 goal haul, most of them crucial match winners.

The new look (get an indepth insight of the “man-bun” here) seems to have led to his regeneration, with Bale currently holding the record as La Liga’s top British goalscorer with 47 goals, beating Gary Lineker’s 43 in March this year. Not to mention his wizard freekicks, which have become as synonymous as his mazy dribbles.

The Welshman has now scored two in two from freekicks in this tournament, and this second one was so far out (>35 yards +) that experts are claiming Joe Hart shouldn’t even have bothered with a wall.

Leave you with this statistic to chew on:

Bale freekick